Watch Now: The Shick Family Donates Files Documenting Charleston’s Past | People
CHARLESTON – One late Wednesday afternoon, Coles County Genealogical Society agents Brenda Taber and Donna Stewart sorted through cases of files filled with photos, letters, documents, and more.
Some items in the collection were relatively new, only a few decades old. Some date back to the gold rush.
“It’s all kinds of things. Things we never thought we would see, and they are there, ”said Stewart, as she rummaged through the Big Four filing cabinets.
The collection was owned by Nancy Easter-Shick, a longtime Charleston resident who has dedicated her life to recording the history of the area. Easter-Shick passed away in September and left her life’s work to her children.
“I remember growing up and working on all these different projects, cemetery tours… and walks through historic homes here in town,” said her son, Mitchell Shick. “And (I remember) how many people in the community would contact her and say, ‘Hey, I just bought this house here. An old house, do you have any information? She would go into her archives and get it and, of course, you would find it. Or, if she couldn’t find him, she looked for him. And she did it all for free. It was just his passion.
As a mother, Easter-Shick took her children and others on treasure hunts, including historic landmarks around town.
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“I think about it and that was his way of trying to make us appreciate the local history,” said Shick.
Shick donated the massive collection to the Genealogical Society so that it could be seen by many for years to come.
“I think she was a very humble person,” said Shick. “She did it out of love, out of community and out of family. And that is really what was important.
Easter-Shick is well known as the author of Round the Square, a book on the history of Charleston and many other places in Coles County. She has been involved in almost every historical organization in the area, including the organizations of the Five-Mile House, the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum.
“We wouldn’t know as much about Charleston and Coles County without Nancy,” said Ann Winkler Hinrichs, vice president of the Coles County Genealogical Society and friend of Nancy. “And, you know, just go interviewing people and listening to people and soaking up everything and making sure she shares everything that she had so many times. People don’t always share what they learn, and Nancy has tried to share as much as she can with everyone.
Easter-Shick was a self-taught and prolific writer and photographer. For years, she developed photos in a darkroom in her home. She also interviewed countless people to create oral histories of people who remembered the tornado that devastated the community, the Great Depression and more.
“She was one of my favorite people in the world,” said David Kent Coy, president of the Coles County Genealogical Society. Coy, a fellow historian, became a longtime friend of Easter-Shick after working with her on a bicentennial history book about Coles County.
They have collaborated on many projects, including “Round the Square”. Easter-Shick even visited Coy at his home in Bloomington as she was finishing the book.
“And I read this book to him four times, while we went through the final revisions,” Coy said.
Over the years, Easter-Shick has also become nationally known for her work in pinpointing the exact location of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, which caught the attention of C-SPAN.
“I think she had a soft spot for Lincoln,” Taber said.
Easter-Shick is actually distantly related to Abraham Lincoln, sharing one ancestor – Mordecai Lincoln. A large part of its archives is indeed dedicated to Lincoln.
“And she (the collection) is more diverse than ever, there is everything from the riots to the Lincoln-Douglas debate to the people. There are like two files of nothing but houses in Charleston, ”Hinrichs said.
Hinrichs even found a photo of her grandparents’ old farmhouse when she was looking at the archives years ago, while they were in Easter-Shick’s daughter’s basement.
“I think all of us in the genealogy society are going to find out new things about our family that Nancy has in the records that we don’t know are there,” Hinrichs said.
The Easter-Shick Archives are already helping people get to know their families better. One visitor who found more about her story was Angelia Mugavero of Dallas.
Mugavero is the second great-granddaughter of James T. Cunningham. The Easter-Shick collection contained an entire file on the Cunningham family.
James T. Cunningham was well known for driving a buggy for Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln later wrote a letter of introduction, to be delivered to a Secretary of War, showing his appreciation for Cunningham.
“When you add all the bread crumbs that come up, it’s just amazing,” said Mugavero, browsing the collection as a tear of joy rose to his eyes.
Stewart has also already found something about her family: a letter from the Gold Rush written by her husband’s fourth great-grandfather. It was the very first item she picked from the archives when she started browsing the files.
“It will take a while to go through all of these papers,” said Stewart, holding the old letter from the Gold Rush in a plastic sleeve. “But we want to make sure that they are stored with care so that they are always there forever.”
The archives will eventually be digitized and accessible to members. Until then, visitors can find the records in large black-painted filing cabinets in the Coles County Genealogical Society at the Carnegie Library in Charleston.
“We (Coy, Stewart, Taber) go through some of the boxes and stuff (at the Genealogical Society),” Coy said with a laugh. “And I know, she would have loved to be there, you know, telling us a story about every document we looked at.”
10 photos of Charleston from the JG-TC archives